One of the most formidable figures in French history is undoubtedly the dynamic military leader and self-proclaimed Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte. Immortalized in history and in pop culture for his commanding nature and his military defeat in the Battle of Waterloo, his remains lie in the heart of Paris, beneath Le Dôme des Invalides.
Also known as the Dome Chapel, le Dome des Invalides, was constructed during the reign of King Louis XIV as a Royal Chapel for the King. Converted into a military pantheon over a century later by Napoleon I,
the Dome Chapel holds the remains of distinguished military leaders and members of the House of Bonaparte, including Napoleon’s brothers Joseph and Jérôme Bonaparte, and his son Napoleon II.
But it’s the Tomb of Napoleon I, an impressive sarcophagus sculpted from red quartzite resting on a base of green granite, that stands in the place of honor at the center of the rotunda. It’s said that the tomb contains the emperor’s ashes, yet other sources claim that it contains his well-preserved body, exhumed from his original burial place on the island of St. Helena where he died in exile. And still others say that the tomb consists of 6 different coffins, some made of wood, others of lead, nestled one inside of the other. We’re not sure what exactly it contains, but we still think that in certain light, the smooth scrolled stone of the tomb looks like a shiny bar of milk chocolate.
As part of the Hôtel National des Invalides, a veteran’s home and hospital established by King Louis XIV, the Dome Chapel and Tomb of Napoleon are administered by the Musée de l’Armée Invalides, an Army Museum dedicated to French Military history.
The ‘museum spaces’ open to visitors include the Charles de Gaulle Monument, the Main Courtyard and Artillery Collection, the Old Department – Old Armor and Weapons, 13th – 17th century, Modern Department – from Louis XIV to Napoleon III, 1643 – 1870,
and the Contemporary Department – the Two World Wars 1871-1945.